Visual Literacies and the Emergence of “Picting”


visualliteracy flickr photo by alisonkeller shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

The term “picting” is new to me but it makes sense. In a recent piece at The Journal by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway entitled Picting, Not Wriing, is the Literacy of Today’s Youth, the question of whether the visual nature of literacy in the (literal) hands of youth — mostly via cameras on mobile devices — has overtaken the written literacies.

Maybe. I don’t know.

I look at my own teenage sons, and my own adolescent students, and I pay attention to the ways they use Snapchat and YouTube and who knows what other apps to document their world, but are they telling stories? It’s more like the visual elements of their mobile lives are connector points, or documentation hubs of their identity (or projected identities), than telling whatever we want to call a story. Read the comments at the article, and you’ll see a discussion about “story” unfolding along this query.

The authors cite research that does back up, however, how young people are more apt to “compose” with images  – and use writing only as secondary literacy points — than the other way around. Unless they are in school. Then, the equation flip flops. In school, writing is the key literacy skill and visuals are often add-ons.

I think that is generally true (that we value textual writing over visual composition), and while more of a balance would make sense, I still think the teaching of writing and of composition and of “composing” with media is a key anchor of learning in our schools. Whether young people are taking and sharing images with intentional design and composition strategies can probably be debated.

I believe that young people still need to learn and to use those more traditional skills (ie, writing with text) to inform the way they interact and write into the world, whether that writing be visual or not. Note the image I used at the top of the post. The elements of design are becoming more and more important for all of us, so teaching and learning visual literacy makes sense.

I was reminded of the work that Nick Sousanis is doing around the visual narrative. You can read his piece from Digital Writing Month, in which he explores elements of visual narrative with a unique insight.

from Nick Sousanis: Spin Weave and Cut

 

And I was reminded, too, of the way my friend Kim Douillard, a writing project colleague, sees the world through her camera, and shares out visual themes for others to try across many social media streams, every single week. Kim views what she sees through her camera as narrative points, and understands how a picture can be composed. I try to learn from her.

Image by Kim Douillard

 

Not everything we write is story, although a common definition of ‘story’ is often debated in writing and teaching circles. Still, the idea that narrative does run beneath all that writers do is an interesting concept, for sure. See Minds Made for Stories by Thomas Newkirk for more on this.

I wrote this as a comment response at The Journal’s piece:

Writing with text is important. So is visual literacy. Also, add in the ability to speak and listen. Explaining something with video? Yep. That, too. The best approach for us educators is always to find ways to fuse these elements together when working with young “composers” of media. We should teach students how each (writing, visual, audio) on its own transforms a message (if not tells a story) and how each can work in tandem with the other to make a more powerful statement on the world. It is intriguing how visual the world of young people has become and there are many ways to tap into that (graphic novels, comics, infographics, etc). I still maintain, along with others, that the art of writing is still at the center of all these literacies.

What do you think?

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

 

Transliteracies: Reading and Writing Across Mediums

This post has been sitting in my blog draft bin for some time. I remember thinking, this is a useful slideshow presentation from Bobbie Newman for considering the ways we write and read across various media and mediums. I guess I never brought it out during Digital Writing Month. The show’s a few years old now, but it is still relevant on its focus on storytelling across a wide range of concepts, including the way humans interact with narrative.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

 

Literacy Collaboration: The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon

Here’s a neat project just finishing up, in which Juan Felipe Herrera (United States Poet Laureate) and artist Juana Medina were “slow writing” a picture book story, with input from second and third grade classrooms around the country. I say “slow writing” because the story had been unfolding one chapter at a time, over months, and the book apparently has just been completed.

There are five chapters, and an epilogue, and the prompt for one of the chapters gives you a nice taste of the story and the characters: How does Catalina use the poetry book to unleash her neon powers and save her familia?”

Herrera and Medina used input from elementary students who responded to the prompt (via a teacher submitting ideas with an online form) as the spine of the next part of the story. Then, they give credit to the schools where the ideas were submitted from.

Cool, right? You bet it is. I hope they do it again.

Check out The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon.

Peace (writing it forever),
Kevin

Digitally Interpreting Wendell Berry and Billy Collins

Thanks to posts at the always wonderfully illuminating Brain Pickings the other day, I read and enjoyed (again) a poem by Billy Collins about the art of writing and then discovered a Wendell Berry poem about writing poetry. (I then donated a small amount to support Brain Pickings, because if Maria inspires me, as she does, I should support her, right?)

I decided to close read the poems with the new Lumen5 tool,  which creates interesting digital pieces from found text on the web, choosing poetic lines from the larger poem (neither of my versions is the entire poem) and revamping them as a sort of digital story. I like the way each piece came out, and how I had to adapt the imagery of the poem to the imagery of the, well, images I chose to go with phrases of the poem.

Was I writing? Is this writing? Did the ants follow me home?

Peace (and advice),
Kevin

Create Bravely with Storytelling

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

We had a visitor to our school yesterday with a clear and inspiring message. Paul Reynolds, author and president of Fablevision media company (and twin brother of Peter Reynolds, author of the The Dot and Ish and now out on tour to support his new book, Beautiful Dreamer) presented a message of nurturing creativity and perseverance to our students in an author visit.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Paul’s overall theme — plastered on the front of this shirt — was “create bravely” in a world that sometimes doesn’t recognize creativity for what it is. (One of my students, during Q/A time, asked: “Where can I get your t-shirt. I really want it.” Paul laughed, and said he might need to talk to Peter about making the shirt available. I know I want one, too. You?)

Paul told the story of how and he and his twin brother, Peter, founded their own company to sell books after Peter’s first book got rejected by multiple publishers, and then how Fablevision moved into video game design, websites, software, and videos.

The platforms, Paul explained, are not as important as the underlying core: Storytelling. Telling stories. The narratives are the key to any project, regardless of platform, Paul explained. And he returned to the theme of underlying story over and over again. I was quite thankful for that, but not surprised, knowing the work of the Reynolds and Fablevision.

He also noted the four “c’s” of learning (from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills): creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking — and then how Fablevision embraces the fifth “c” —  compassion. Again and again, Paul reminded students to make an impact — a dot — upon the world, and that art has a role in changing the world for the better.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

I deeply appreciated that after the big session with all of our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds), Paul and Andrea Calvin (of Fablevision) came into one of my classrooms and talked and worked and brainstormed and troubleshot for an hour with my students as they were using a beta version of a publishing site from Fablevision called Get Published. They are creating a memory picture book online that will later get published into a hardcover, bound book.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Peace (brave and creative),
Kevin

 

Making (Digital to Bound) Picture Books

Making Picture Books

We’re in our second year of a partnership of sorts with Boston-based Fablevision, a media and publishing company run by author/illustrator Peter Reynolds (of The Dot fame) and his twin brother, Paul Reynolds. Last year, we beta-tested their publishing site that allows you to make picture books, with a Reynolds-artistic-feel, in an online space that connects to a publishing space. You create in digital; and end in bound books. This year, we are beta-testing a second version of what is now called Get Published (which is a whole lot better and a whole lot less buggier than the first version.)

Making Picture Books

And today, Paul Reynolds and some folks from Fablevision are coming to our school to talk with our sixth graders and perhaps get a look at what they have been up to with their original picture books (the theme: looking back at their elementary school years, with a touch of satire and humor). Peter is on tour with his new book, called Happy Dreamer. We had talked about asking him to Skype in to join Paul but I am not sure if that is going to work.

Paul, along with writing and illustrating with Peter (see Going Places, with its cool Maker Space theme), runs Fablevision, which does a lot of interesting work around digital media and educational software, as well as publishing. The Reynolds also own their own bookstore in Eastern Massachusetts called The Blue Bunny.

It’ll be a fun day!

Making Picture Books

For our project, the parent group for our sixth graders have offered to pick up the cost of publishing the books, which we hope to have in their hands before our last day of school. We also will have our sixth graders read and share their books with second graders, for an authentic audience experience.

Peace (making it happen),
Kevin

 

Interpreting, and Honoring, the Words of Others


Untitled flickr photo by kangster shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Thanks (again) to Terry Elliott for sharing a new possibility for close reading and digital interpretation. This time, it’s something called Lumen5, which allows you to use text from blog posts (or freewrite) to create a short video not unlike a digital story. I like the “pick and choose” element.

By close reading posts of others (or close reading yourself, too), you can point to textual elements and then add images and music. The site then kicks out a video.

I tried the process first with my friend, Karen LaBonte, who wrote of her move to Portland and what she is seeing in her new community in a very poignant piece of writing. She also shares how she hopes to make an impact there (of that, I am sure.)

The second was a piece by Maha Bali, as she continues to explore the terrain of “open learning” in a variety of ways. In the post I used, she uses the metaphor of the flower.

In both cases, I hoped to honor my friends with the choosing of words (and hoped the context would not be completely lost through my interpretation) and that the video versions might lead others on a path to their blogs and writing.

Karen writes All Hands on Deck

Maha writes Reflection Allowed

And you should, of course, read Terry who writes Impedagogy

Peace (extended outward),
Kevin

PS — I also could not resist making a version of my Western Massachusetts Mission Statement as a video.

This is (still) the Truth (Zeega Multimedia Version)

Five Voices in Search of a Poem

I’ve been wanting to take a poem for five voices that I wrote last month, and invited four friends to virtually perform with me, into Zeega for some multimedia interpretation, and finally found the time this week to do so. The poem is a response to both the media landscape and the political turmoil (made even more tumultuous yesterday by the firing of the lead investigator by the president being investigated).

First, here is just the audio, with help from Terry, Sheri, Melvina and Scott. We recorded it all remotely using a site called Soundtrap.

Now, here is the Zeega version (You might need to tell your browser in the url bar to allow it to play unsafe scripts, which comes as a result of Terry hosting Zeega at his own space, I believe). Also, it is best to view the Zeega in full screen, to get the entire effect of image layering and viewing. Here it is:

What’s always so interesting about this process is trying to match the visual experience, with limited text anchors, to the audio, even knowing that every viewer will process through the project at a different pace. With Zeega, the viewer/reader/listener chooses when to advance the visuals, even as the audio plays on.

I’m happy with how it came out. I hope you enjoy it.

Peace (in many voices),
Kevin

The Dilemma of Digital Texts: Who Owns What’s on the Web?


Close Open flickr photo by Kaarina Dillabough shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

An interesting, and quite challenging, discussion unfolded on Twitter this past weekend that centered on the concepts of crowd annotation tools and content that can found on the open web. Tools like Hypothesis (which I use pretty regularly) allow you to annotate most websites and blogs, creating a digital margin side area for discussion. The benefits seem obvious to me: crowd annotation provides a space for engaging group discussions about specific texts and ideas, generating new and expanded understanding of the digital pieces that we are reading.

But the provocative question was raised by a writer with a large audience (one whom I read regularly and support via Patreon): Who owns that original text (that content which is being annotated in the digital margins) and how much say do they have over whether the annotation should even happen in the first place? This particular writer used a web script to shut down Hypothesis and other annotation tools at their site.

It’s not a clear-cut issue, at least in my mind, and a long discussion on Twitter between nearly a dozen people (including the writer, for a bit, before they became angered by the discussion and asked to be left alone) revealed the complexities of ownership of content, and what relationship the writer has with their readers when posting something to the open web.

I find myself appreciating a writer’s desire to be able to control what is being done at their website or blog, and understand the sense of being concerned about what people are doing in the margins of an original text. Sure, comments potentially do open up that discussion, too, but let’s face it, the comment sections of many sites — particularly those run by women with strong opinions — often get overrun by those with nothing better to do in their petty lives than leave vicious comments and provocative, and perhaps profane, words.

The worry is that someone writing in the digital margins will be malicious, too, and the writer would have little (at this time, anyway) recourse. This is a legitimate concern, as any perusal of comments at YouTube will tell you. (Hypothesis is close to adding some new functions for flagging content and has been mulling over this very concept of writer’s rights). To be honest, I have yet to come across anything like that in Hypothesis.

Still, as much I can see the point of protest, another part of me (maybe the naive part of me, that voice that says look to potential and possibilities with digital writing) thinks, if you post something to the world via the Web, you can expect (hope/intend) that maybe someone will want to read what you wrote and maybe react to your words. Why else post your writing if not to engage a reader? (The argument against this viewpoint is that people do the writing, not technology, and writers should not be held hostage to the potential aspects of technology. Or something like that.)

I believe tools like Hypothesis give space for collaborative discussions, allowing the margins of the text to come alive with conversation and questions and associative linking that extends the thinking of the original writer. It empowers the reader, although perhaps that empowerment comes at the expense of the writer’s authority over their own words at that point.

Personally, I use Hypothesis to closely read online texts, to examine and think, and to bounce ideas off the text to others in the margins, who help push my own thinking forward or force me to re-examine my beliefs and ideas. Your text, if posted to the web, can become a source of inspiration for me, and others. That’s a real gift to your readers.

Clearly, not everyone thinks this way.

What do you think?

Who owns the text once a writer makes it public on the Web?

Peace (thinking),
Kevn

PS — There were other nuances to the Twitter discussion that I did not capture here — including the right to be forgotten in a connected world; obligations and compacts (or not) to readers who financially support the writer who is not wanting to be annotated; and what role a text has in the public sphere.

PSS — I purposely did not name the writer because they clearly were upset that their decision was being questioned, and I did not want to make their situation any worse. Besides, the individual case here is less important than the larger discussion.

#NetNarr: Social Lifestyle or Ad-fueled Construct

via http://van-life.net/

I don’t know what to make of the piece by Rachel Monroe in The New Yorker about #VanLife, which focuses on people who have taken to living in their vans (mostly VW vans) for all sorts of reasons — economic, lifestyle, etc. These #VanLife folks then share their travels and world via social media, often with the hashtag of #VanLife, and mostly on Instagram.

That’s fine.

Our world is one built on sharing and community practice (yes, there is a #VanLife network of people) but where I started to shake my head and wonder is when the article shifted to the money being made by those who are living in their vans. Many now enter into financial deals with companies and organizations, and we watch in the article as the young couple in Monroe’s focus sets up photographic shots with product placement and endorsements in mind.

The collapsing distance between brand and life has led to social-media influencing, in which advertisers pay for endorsements from people with strong online followings. Celebrity endorsements aren’t new, of course, but influencer marketing expands the category of “celebrity” to include teen-age fashionistas, drone racers, and particularly photogenic dogs. Advertisers work with people like Smith and King precisely because they’re not famous in the traditional sense. They’re appealing to brands because they have such a strong emotional connection with their followers.  — Rachel Monroe, from #VanLife, The Bohemian Social-Media Movement, via the New Yorker.

For so many reasons, that just sits the wrong way with me.

Maybe I am thinking of authenticity in the world (so, they want to live in van to escape the pressures of a stable life but then sell themselves off the company with the biggest wallet?) and the authenticity of the stories that we are creating with social media (some would no doubt argue everything we do is a social construct made larger and magnified by social media). I don’t wander around social media sites with my head in the sand but I also don’t buy into the notion that everything we do is for sale, either.

Imagine if we started to put placement ads in CLMOOC or DS106 or Networked Narratives (although spoofing that in those spaces might be sort of interesting and often is) and made money off the creative energies of the people in those networks?

Ack. I’d leave those spaces in a heartbeat. Here, these folks court and encourage advertising, fit their social selves into the schemes of advertising, and seem to live through the lens of advertising.

Not my cup of tea (I won’t tell you what brand I drink, either).

It’s fine. Go live in your van.  Take pics. Share them out. But don’t sell me some “experience” if it is sponsored by Coco-Cola or Pepsi (god forbid) or whatever. Keep that part of your journey to yourself.

Peace (homebound),
Kevin